Gilded at the Marigny Opera House
The Marigny Opera House fielded a full house for the recent world premiere of Gilded. That so many people would come out for a 45-minute song cycle on a Sunday evening following a Saints game was heartening indeed.
With music by Tucker Fuller set to a text by Megan Levad, Gilded is inspired by the wandering lieder of the Romantic era and today’s free market/neoliberal sensibility. In its nine sections, using three voices, it tells of the tortured search for love by a successful, powerful man, perhaps a tech entrepreneur. He cruises. He hooks up. He’s cast aside.
How noble to tell a story like this in such a classical form; Levad’s angsty, passionate text could just as easily have served as the basis for a glam rock extravaganza. And how interesting that Levad, a straight woman can, with only a few poetic overindulgences, so potently capture the emotional state of a gay man.
Though its title clearly conjures up images of robber barons, Levad uses references subtle (e.g., a phrase evoking Sinéad O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U) and not so subtle (“a disco ball”) to place this tale in our own era. If her hero exhibits a refined yearning, she bravely makes him not the nicest or most sympathetic of people, a man who’s not afraid to admit to self-hate and who evinces a scary, almost Trumpian ruthlessness in his business dealings.
Fuller employs both an apt romanticism reminiscent of Beethoven and the astringencies of the Second Viennese School to convey the lovesick, tortured personality of the “Entrepreneur”. Fuller sets his music to Levad’s text well; there’s nothing arbitrary about the vocal line as it seems in some contemporary classical music. He gives us extended phrases of longing in a passage for viola and cello (“He Loved Him That Evening”), and switches from major to minor keys to bring out shifting moods.
There are tumultuous passages with tremulous undertones as well as intriguing dissonances as Fuller tries to musically answer the question “What does a person who seemingly has everything really want?”
While thoroughly accomplished from the start, I felt it wasn’t until the two-thirds mark that the music truly probed the emotional depths of the text and its characters. In total, however, Fuller and Levad deliver a subliminally affecting portrayal that captures these sad and scary times in which we live.
Though Gilded could conceivably be done with three singers (a possibility that Levad acknowledged could occur in future performances), for the premiere all three voices were taken by Brenden Gunnell, for whom the piece was written. Looking like a Teutonic James Corden, this young American heldentenor sang with clear tone and precise diction. He confidently hit all of Fuller’s high notes with a piercing and, at times, anguished self-awareness. I would be curious to see him in a staged performance of Gilded with two other vocalists and how that might add to the work.
The Polymnia Quartet (Benjamin Hart and Kate Withrow, violins; Amelia Clingman, viola; Philip Von Maltzahn, cello) played with their usual flawless expertise, bringing out all the colors of Fuller’s score.
At a time when glbt characters are finally getting a bigger voice on recital and operatic stages (the trans-themed As One, which New Orleans Opera presented last year, has been one of the most produced works of recent vintage), Gilded deserves to have a long life. Whether it does or not, the Marigny Opera House and all others involved with this performance can be justifiably proud for introducing it to the world.
Songs That Won the War at the WWII Museum’s BB’s Stage Door Canteen through Nov. 27
[Songs That Won the War returns to the Stage Door Canteen through Nov. 27. The following are excerpts from my October 2015 review of the original production.]
We’re told at the start of Songs That Won the War, the terrific new entertainment at the WWII Museum’s Stage Door Canteen, that “popular songs had an important part in building morale.” If that initially provokes a raised eyebrow and an “Oh, really?”, by the end, the show convinces any doubters just how integral music was to winning the war.
Sure, you’re probably familiar with Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Lili Marlene, but Victoria Reed [who conceived the show and wrote its script] has unearthed a bunch of great songs, most not heard at the Canteen before, with such titles as We’re Going to Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line and Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet.
Starting with What Do You Do in the Infantry?, Songs That Won the War is intelligently crafted and, appropriately for its museum setting, offers historical tidbits that enhance our appreciation of the numbers. For example, the Germans thought The Lambeth Walk was Jewish propaganda because it had “Oy” in its refrain (oy!). And if The Victory Belles perform Comin’ In On a Wing and a Prayer a capella it’s because it was originally done that way due to a 1943 musicians’ strike.
Wisely, Reed doesn’t overdo such factoids but lets the songs speak for themselves. And speak (sing?) for themselves they do, some with beauty and elegance, others with bouncy wit, all of which still holds up 70+ years later.
Rosie the Riveter [is] a rousing stand-out in a show that rolls smoothly along for its entire 65 minutes, each number highly polished without ever becoming cruise ship plasticky thanks to the Belles’ warmth and charm.
[There’s] just the right amount of audience interaction, and the Belles are adorable as they play to the WWII veterans in the front row, dancing with them and leaving red lipstick kisses on their foreheads. The three vets who were at the show I saw seemed to enjoy themselves immensely.
Songs That Won the War concludes with Irving Berlin’s White Christmas which, as an anthem of WWII, we’re told was considered a song of peace and is, of course, still hugely popular. Sadly, it made me realize how few war songs have been written in the last 12 years; I found one website that listed 27, none popular hits. Though no war is good, at least World War II gave us some lasting cultural gems.
Songs plays on Wednesday afternoons and is preceded by a buffet.
[Mandi Mueller, who was part of the original production’s cast, now directs and choreographs the show which features Jessica Nicole Gordon, Hannah Rachal and Skylend Roussell.
Next up at the Stage Door Canteen is Higgins: The Man, The Boat, The War which combines live-action newsreel re-creation, musical revue, and dramatic history, to tell the story of New Orleans boatbuilder Andrew Higgins, one of America’s most famous wartime Home Front contractors, and the combat watercraft that carried the Allied effort to victory. The show runs Oct. 11–Nov. 10.]
The Color Purple at the Mahalia Jackson Theater, Oct. 25-27
[The Color Purple comes to the Mahalia Jackson Theater Oct. 25-27. The following are excerpts from my March 2018 review of the touring production that played here.]
Ah, what a brilliant director can do.
John Doyle’s imaginative reconceptualization of the musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s epistolatory novel The Color Purple took a lumbering show and, by paring it down to its essentials, made a simple but powerful production out of it.
Gone are any hyperrealistic scenic elements replaced by chairs, lots of them in various shades of brown, that effectively stand in for all the book’s locales. If the touring company’s recent stop at the Saenger still had an episodic feel to it, Doyle’s fluid staging allows for a greater narrative momentum while still encompassing lovely images as when cast members cause large pieces of cloth to billow up and then gently float down.
Marsha Norman’s book never fully overcomes the challenge of having a basically passive heroine at its core; would that she had inserted some scenes to show how an oppressed wife forges her way to being a successful entrepreneur. As it stands, one rarely feels viscerally connected to the events unfolding onstage which are ultimately wrapped up too tidily.
The score by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray reflects their pop backgrounds; the music reveals its jazz, R&B and gospel influences in pretty ways yet never rises much above the synthetic and generic. One wishes for one or two truly memorable numbers, though Sofia’s Hell No! could become an anthem of the #MeToo movement.
Under Jane Cox’s lighting, sublime in its subtleties, the entire cast sang ravishingly and did fine dramatic justice to their characters.
Pete McElligott, whose version of The Three Musketeers was such a delight last year, is back with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. This outdoor, spooky, immersive production features Ichabod Crane and the infamous Headless Horseman and, like Musketeers, will be performed in NOMA’s Besthoff Sculpture Garden (Oct. 16-Nov. 10).
Directed by Leslie Claverie, The NOLA Project will be presenting this Halloween-season show and promises that “this new telling is bound to leave you laughing your head off. Perhaps literally.”
If your favorite things lean more to classic Broadway musicals than classically scary tales, climb every mountain or at least do-re-mi your way over to Metairie for JPAS’s production of The Sound of Music (Oct. 18-27) at the Jefferson Performing Arts Center.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beloved tale of a postulant who proves too high-spirited for the religious life, and winds up serving as governess for the seven children of a widowed naval Captain will star opera singer Sarah Jane McMahon as Maria and Rich Arnold, who triumphed this summer in Tulane Summer Lyric’s She Loves Me, as Captain von Trapp. No tricks here–this should be a treat!